Letter from the President
Every year at Perkins unfolds with the promise of new beginnings.
Our students are uplifted with every new life experience and classroom education they receive. Our campus is renewed with the groundbreaking of projects and renovations that offer new learning and living opportunities for our staff and students. Our international partners develop new solutions with the support of Perkins. All these achievements, big and small, contribute to fulfilling our mission of bringing programs and services to individuals who are blind and visually impaired, including those with additional disabilities, here and around the world.
We reflect on this promise of new beginnings this past summer as we put together our 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. This Plan recommits us to preparing students, reaching new populations, expanding internationally and building partnerships—all key factors that are crucial in our determination to open new doors for hundreds of thousands of individuals around the globe.
This edition of The Lantern details many new undertakings. You'll read about the latest developments with the Grousbeck Center for Students and Technology, destined to be the gold standard for teaching technology and a central location for student recreation. You'll learn about the eye-opening experiences of public school students who sampled the working world during our five-week Outreach program. And you'll also celebrate the milestone of Israel's first-ever national conference on the education of individuals with visual impairment.
These stories and many more are examples of the way Perkins is helping others to open new doors. Thanks to all of you who support our work, every day is a chance for a new beginning.
Steven M. Rothstein
President, Perkins School for the Blind
Around the World
Names and Faces
- New Strategic Plan unveiled
- Perkins Possibilities Gala
- Gubernatorial candidates forum
- 2010 Graduates
- Perkins names new CFO
- Vision 5K
- Senior class trip
- Time capsules buried
New facility catapults learning and teaching into the future
Rows of desktop computers and chairs squeezed into a small room on the second floor of the Hilton Building have served as the headquarters for teacher and staff computer training for the last few years. September's celebratory groundbreaking of the Grousbeck Center for Students and Technology – a building that will expand Perkins' training resources, as well as provide a central location for students to socialize and immerse themselves in cutting-edge technology – signaled change is near.
"In our role as leader in blindness education, Perkins must take a leadership role in access to the latest technology," said Perkins President Steven Rothstein, as a gathering of Perkins educators, students, family members and the community sank shovels into the soil only a few hundred yards from the Hilton Building where the Grousbeck Center is slated to rise. "A hundred years ago, Perkins moved to Watertown and opened unheard-of opportunities. The Grousbeck Center will open up new opportunities, some we foresee and others we have yet to imagine."
The new Center, made possible by a $10 million commitment from the Grousbeck Family Foundation and scheduled to open fall 2011, is designed to be the campus' first centralized location for student recreation, with a café, space for video games and music performances. The new building will also offer ways for Perkins to continue its transition programming by giving students job opportunities. From waiting on customers at the café to greeting visitors at a reception area, to manning a technology help desk or assisting with conference preparation and materials for trainings, students will be part of the every day activity in the building.
"Our students will have the opportunity to interact in ways that they currently do not," said Dorinda Rife, superintendent of Education Programs. "This idea of combining technology, training and student life has tremendous potential."
The new building will be a hub of cutting-edge technology -- a place to learn and experiment with the latest adaptive equipment.
The building will become the new home for some Perkins Products staff and resources, where clients can explore assistive technology. Hallways and open spaces will double as opportunities to display new products and videos of those adaptive technology solutions in action. The Center will also provide space for Perkins Training Center events and conferences for educators and professionals. These multi-use rooms will include video cameras, conference phones and other communication technology to allow Perkins to further expand its international impact.
"This project started as a tiny hope and dream of ours to do something that would move education forward into the 21st century for Perkins students. It's a privilege to work with people who are compassionate, creative and big thinkers," said Corinne Grousbeck on behalf of the Grousbeck Family Foundation.
A fresh perspective
Students learn about eating locally at first Farm to School Fair
For Lower School student Shae, age 12, who is visually impaired, the small green leaves he crumbled between his fingers gave little clue as to the plant's identity.
But when he bent his head and brought the oils to his nose, a look of recognition and delight flashed across his face.
"Oh yeah! It smells like peppermint patties!" he exclaimed.
Shae's hands-on experiment with mint leaves—grown in Perkins' own gardens—was part of the school's first-ever Farm to School Fair in July, an event designed to educate students about the health and environmental benefits of consuming locally grown food.
Perkins began participating in the Mass. Farm to School Project in 2009, purchasing some of its produce from Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg, Mass. Not only is the food fresh, it travels just 42 miles from the fields where farmer Pat Lanni and his crew pick it to the tables in Perkins' cottages.
"The Farm to School Project is a win for participants all around," said Lanni, who displayed a selection of fruits and vegetables at the fair and entertained questions about the growing process from students and teachers. Not only do students and staff receive fresh, healthy food, the partnership supports the economy by bringing additional business to the farm and its workers. And the short distance from field to table greatly reduces the energy cost and toll on the environment, he added.
"These are the connections we're trying to make," said Deborah Krause, coordinator of Perkins' Horticulture Therapy Program and the Thomas and Bessie Pappas Horticulture Center, who collaborated with the school's food services and home and personal management education programs to organize the fair. "What does local mean? Well, it's right here."
The fair featured a hands-on activity table where students like Shae could learn about fresh herbs and crush dried leaves for tea bags and sachets, as well as a tasting table where students could bring the sweet and savory experience full circle. "Most students aren't inclined to eat vegetables," said Food Services Manager Steven Smith, "so using fresh produce and herbs is one way to appeal to their senses."
"Fresh herbs make things taste better and smell better," said Smith, who spooned up ripe tomatoes with a basil and olive oil puree, alongside golden raspberries, peaches and blueberry smoothies.
While buying from farms can be trickier than purchasing from a supermarket, as some foods may not always be available at any moment, Smith believes it is worth the effort.
"We also purchase fresh collard greens and swiss chard, which are a real challenge for kids to eat," he said. "But it's so good for you."
Public school students practice on-the-job responsibility in Outreach Services summer program
A full-grown lion will eat 11 pounds of horsemeat in a single day.
That piece of trivia is just one of the many items – some fun facts, some life lessons – that Christopher, 17, of Worcester, Mass., acquired while working at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston this past summer.
"These are the front teeth," he told a 3-year-old visitor, who peered nervously at the large replica lion skull in Christopher's hands, as the teenager stroked the long, curved fangs at the front of the jaw. "He uses them to pull back the meat."
Christopher is one of 10 young adults who signed up for five weeks with Outreach Services Summer Employment Program, designed to introduce public school students who are blind to the working world. In addition to acquiring pieces of trivia about animals in the wild, Christopher also experienced the challenges and rewards of being an independent, working adult: reporting to his job on time, getting along with coworkers and bringing home a paycheck.
Those lessons, in addition to the everyday challenges like sharing living space, commuting and managing a budget, are what give participants a real taste of independent life, said Beth Caruso, director of Outreach Services.
"They learn about writing a resume and interviewing skills, social skills, attire and all those kinds of things. At the same time, they're also getting instruction in cooking, shopping and laundry, as well as time management. It's that balancing of life," she said.
The program is also a chance for students to learn more about themselves – their strengths and their preferences when it comes to working. For Paul, 17, of New York, who envisions himself as a web designer or teacher some day, driving to the zoo from Perkins – a 20-minute ride on a good day, a 45-minute slog in bad traffic – amounts to a too-costly commute.
"In real life, it would be too far away," he said. "A taxi would be too expensive."
The experience is also a reality check for Sam, 17, of New York, who dislikes the sound of his alarm clock at 6 a.m.
"It's a little tough," he said. "If I didn't have to wake up at 6, I wouldn't."
Still, he is glad to walk to the bus stop after breakfast and commute to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge to work outside in the gardens with the greenhouse crew. He considers himself lucky to have landed a job out in the sunshine.
"I wanted less of an office position," he said.
Above all, the experience confirmed for Paul something he'd suspected about himself for a while.
"I can't wait to be more independent – living by myself and doing my own thing," he said.
Strength in numbers
For Perkins and corporations that volunteer, rewards are realized on both sides
Volunteering at last year's Taste of Perkins was an eye-opening experience for Eric Monkiewicz, a civil engineer at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.'s Watertown, Mass., office. He and fellow employees guided blindfolded guests from table to table to experience food without the benefit of visual cues.
"It was a nice perspective of what it is like to rely on just your taste buds," said Monkiewicz, who has volunteered at several campus events. "I like to give back, and I appreciate what Perkins does here."
VHB is one of several corporations that have supported Perkins with volunteer work in the last few years – contributing significantly to more than 50,000 total hours volunteers have dedicated to Perkins in that time span. And the partnerships with corporations are proving to be beneficial to both sides. Perkins appreciates the sheer volume of volunteers ready to roll up their sleeves. The volunteers' experience of spending time on campus and interacting with individuals who are blind or visually impaired, many with additional disabilities, goes a long way toward increasing awareness.
"These volunteers come to our campus and become more aware of our mission," said Perkins Volunteer Manager Mike Cataruzolo, adding that Perkins has benefited from the time of more than 800 volunteers in the last year. "Our volunteers talk with their families afterward about the work they've done here. Now those people are more understanding about people with disabilities as well."
Eventually, Cataruzolo hopes that this awareness results in more corporations extending employment opportunities to Perkins graduates, or others who are visually impaired.
VHB has also supported Perkins financially, giving more than $38,000 since 2007, which includes more than $14,000 to help restore the historic Perkins Pond.
VHB has taken multiple steps to encourage their employees' participation in some kind of volunteer activity, said Senior Environmental Planner Susan Nichols. She volunteered at Perkins' Alumni Weekend in June, serving breakfast and helping to clean the guest rooms as alumni left campus. She brought along her husband and her 1-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who rode in a backpack.
"Having a coordinator at VHB makes it much easier for us to volunteer, and reminds the VHB staff that there is a need. If I get a couple of e-mails from work about volunteer opportunities, I'm much more likely to sign up and see if anyone in my family wants to come," she said.
"It makes it easier when your company is backing up employees to go out and volunteer," added Monkiewicz.
"Corporations today are getting more and more involved in the community, "said Cataruzolo. "It's team building, and it has a lot of value for both Perkins and the companies."
Perkins and local partners are changing attitudes in China village by village
Four years ago, a little boy named Chen, who had been born completely blind, was living in a rural village outside Nantong, China, and existed in a world of silence and isolation. At eight years old, he had never gone to school. He had never learned to speak. He spent his days playing with the family's sheep in the hay, spurned by neighbors who considered him bad luck.
His life – and that of his immediate community – changed the day he was visited by a Perkins International teacher and local Chinese teachers who were participating in a Perkins-sponsored training.
Convinced that Chen could benefit from education and social interaction, Perkins teacher Ellen Mazel approached the village women and enlisted their help, calling upon the cultural adage, "It takes a village to raise a child."
By the time she departed, the first small signs of change were evident: the women were arguing among themselves as to who would entertain Chen first for lunch.
Today, Chen's world has transformed dramatically. He plays and laughs with the village children. He feeds himself and washes his own dishes. He attends school and comes home to tell his father about his lessons.
"He's part of the community," said Debbie Gleason, regional coordinator of Asia/Pacific Programs for Perkins International, who has since visited Chen and his family. "He's a delightful, engaging little boy who is very interactive and social. With the guidance of the local teachers and the interaction with other children and adults in his village, he has really blossomed."
Those services for Chen grew into China's very first home-based early intervention program – a program that today is flourishing and reaching many children in similar situations.
In 2001, Perkins and its local partner, China National Institute for Special Education Research, launched trainings of local teachers at six schools across the country. Those schools started the first educational programs for preschoolers who are visually impaired and children who are visually impaired with multiple disabilities. Today, that partnership has spread into 27 preschool and multiple disability programs in 17 cities.
Work expanded when Perkins and its partner, Amity Foundation, launched trainings of teachers in Jiangsu Province to begin services to very young children who are blind or visually impaired and their families. Thus the very first home-based services for young children who are blind in China were launched. Families who previously had no hope that their children who were blind could learn now have hope.
"Chen's story is just one example", said Gleason. "There are countless more children and families with similar stories of hope and dreams regained, and yet there are so many more children, families and communities to reach."
Israeli conference on visual impairment important first step in sharing resources
A multitude of ambitious goals were identified at last spring's Israeli National Conference for Educators and Allied Health Professionals, the first of its kind in Israel.
"But one sure sign of early success is the enthusiasm and energy expressed by local professionals who didn't waste a moment putting to use their new knowledge and perspective," said Marianne Riggio, Perkins International training coordinator.
She and Steven Rothstein, Perkins President, visited one such teacher at a Palestinian school in East Jerusalem just days after the conference who couldn't say enough about the experience.
"We asked him what he learned and he went on and on," she said. "We had to finally say, 'OK, we have to go now.'"
The conference, deemed a milestone in collaboration by all sides, brought together 300 educators, health care professionals and parents to Tel Aviv in May for the purpose of starting dialogues and sharing information regarding the education and services for individuals who are visually impaired with additional disabilities.
The conference was co-sponsored by Perkins International and Keren Or, a Jerusalem-based Perkins partner, with the help of Israel's Ministry of Welfare-Services for the Blind, Eliya-Israel Association for the Advancement of Blind and Visually Impaired Children, and the Beth David Institute for Deafblind Persons.
"The number of individuals who fall into the category of visually impaired with multiple disabilities is small but growing," said Tamara Silberberg, executive director of Keren Or, the country's only school specially dedicated to this population. That means the needs of this particular group, which spans many diverse disciplines, are constantly changing and in need of additional resources.
The conference featured multiple workshops that targeted special interests of a variety of groups, she added. One session addressed strategies for feeding children with visual impairments and additional disabilities, as well as teaching their families and eventually helping them learn to feed themselves. There was a special session regarding cortical vision impairment, as well as another specifically designed to clarify the difference between deafblindness and other conditions such as Usher Syndrome, the leading cause of deafblindness in the country.
"The whole idea was to introduce new skills and refine other skills already in practice," said Silberberg. "So many different groups attended and people were very pleased with what was offered."
"While Perkins' partners have accomplished much individually, bringing them together to share their knowledge and make new connections is key to keeping the momentum growing," said Steven Rothstein, who also attended the conference.
"There's so much everyone wants to do," he said. "It can be challenging to coordinate the priorities. But the conference was beyond my expectations. Sometimes in conferences like this, it takes days to get people to really interact. But here, that happened right away."
Perkins is pleased to announce the release of its 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, a five-year blueprint that will guide the school's future decisions regarding academic programming, capital improvements, the development of partnerships and much more. The Plan, which includes a special focus on expanding student access to adaptive technology and increasing braille literacy, recommits Perkins to four goals that will help pursue our mission of providing education and services to individuals here and around the world: preparing students, reaching new populations, expanding internationally and building partnerships.
The Plan can be read online at www.Perkins.org/strategicplan, and accessible formats are available by calling 617-972-7335.
This year's Perkins Possibilities Gala raised more than $1.4 million for our global education efforts, exceeding the 2009 Gala's fundraising total of $1.27 million. To guests' surprise and delight, Bob Weir of the legendary Grateful Dead took the stage alongside Perkins' tie-dye clad student chorus to perform "Ripple" and "Sugar Magnolia," among other favorites. Later in the evening, Weir's autographed guitar from the performance raised $21,000 during the auction. In addition to the musical performances, the Gala's 700 guests heard speeches from Gala Co-Chair and Celtic's co-owner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck, whose son Campbell is a Perkins student, and from Perkins Deafblind Program graduate Chris Jett, who assured the audience that his disability will never deter his dreams for the future.
All candidates for governor of Massachusetts took the stage at Dwight Hall in May to discuss disability issues. The forum was held in honor of the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite dissension on health care, housing, and employment for people with disabilities, the candidates agreed more cooperation is needed.
Republican Charlie Baker advocated a "cleaner, easier, clearer way of doing business" and said streamlining health and human services agencies would not only save money but also make managing these agencies simpler.
"Let's be honest with each other on the challenges ahead. Funding human services is going to be a challenge for a couple more years as we climb out of this global recession," said Governor Patrick.
Twelve Perkins graduates celebrated their accomplishments at the 2010 Commencement ceremony in June with words of wit and wisdom from keynote speaker Rabbi Dennis G. Shulman, who urged them to continue learning by opening themselves to embrace the unknown.
"It turns out that you cannot die from embarrassment," said Shulman, a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and distinguished author who is visually impaired. "Life is to be lived, and that involves putting ourselves, more often than not, in situations that are not so perfect or cozy or comfortable."
Minh, the senior class speaker, encouraged her fellow graduates to do the same: "Let's show them what we as students who are visually impaired are able to do."
Perkins is pleased to welcome Lisa A. Calise as its new chief financial officer, succeeding Fred Baker who will step down after six years of service to the school. Calise joined Perkins from the city of Boston, where she served as director of administration and finance since 2007 and had been CFO since the 2003. Before coming to Boston, she worked as a budget examiner at the White House Office of Management and Budget in Washington, DC. Calise began work in September and will overlap with Baker's tenure.
"I continue to thank Fred for his many contributions over the years," said Perkins President Steven Rothstein, "and I know Lisa will do amazing work for our team as well."
Perkins students, parents, and staff joined hundreds of runners and walkers of all abilities this Father's Day at Boston College for the Vision 5K, a partnership event between Perkins and three other local organizations that serve individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
Barbara Slattery walked the five kilometers with her daughter Rebecca, a student in the Secondary Program, to help raise awareness about the capabilities of people who are blind or visually impaired. "Finally," she said, "I feel like I'm giving back something."
Since 2001, this event has generated more than $1 million dollars to fund the partner organizations. Sighted participants have the option of running the five kilometers blindfolded.
Sun, sand and a few dazzling karaoke performances were on the itinerary for six Perkins seniors who boarded a cruise ship for a three-night trip to the Bahamas last spring.
The adventure, funded in part by monthly fundraisers that the students held throughout the academic year, also included rock climbing and shopping in Nassau.
"The best part was how much there was to do," said Samantha, who is now a Perkins graduate.
"This trip really gave the students a chance to learn what independence is all about," said horticulture teacher Marion Myhre, one of five advisors to join the seniors on the trip. "I think they were able to see what the future can hold for them."
Newspapers, magazines, student essays and artifacts from today will tell a powerful story to the Perkins students of tomorrow when they open two time capsules buried on campus in September. Located on the site of Perkins' new Lower School building and filled with things like stamps and coins honoring Louis Braille and Helen Keller and an MP3 player with today's hits, the capsules will be unearthed in 2029 as part of Perkins' 200th birthday celebration.
Looking to the future is the theme of the new building – a fully accessible, state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly facility for elementary and middle school students which opens this winter – as well. Many present at the burial promised to be on hand for the recovery of the capsules in 20 years.
At Perkins, we are frequently reminded that new beginnings and partnerships go hand in hand.
So much of what we accomplish is connected to the friends who support us. One year ago, we announced a $10 million commitment from the Grousbeck Family Foundation to build the Grousbeck Center for Students and Technology. Just last month we celebrated the groundbreaking of that transformative project – a partnership that truly forms the foundation of the future.
Our school has also found a partner in our friend and Trust Board member, Joe O'Donnell, whose generosity has created Perkins' first endowed faculty position – another milestone in our effort to attract top-notch educators and provide the highest-quality education to our students.
These are only two examples of the vital partnerships that touch so many different aspects of Perkins. Countless volunteers give their time. Local businesses provide job placements and career experience to our students. Our international partners bring services and education to children around the world while expanding the potential of those programs by helping train more professionals and teachers.
When Perkins opened its doors in 1829, it housed a handful of students. Today, our reach circles the globe and touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals every year. And that number continues to grow. These achievements would not be possible without our many valued partners. Every step forward is a reminder of what more we can accomplish together.
Executive Director of the Trust
Perkins' commitment to fiscal responsibility is a major reason Wanda and Ron Mourant chose to establish a gift annuity with the school – specifically, the economical, financially responsible way the institution runs its programs and promotes itself.
"I feel like we're putting our money into the things we believe in," said Wanda Mourant. "Perkins isn't spending my money to ask other people for money."
Last spring, the Mourants received their first fixed, annual payment from the deferred gift annuity they established three years ago. Deferring their payments increased the interest rate that determines their annual return. Overall, the gift annuity is a way for the couple to see their money make a difference at Perkins, while providing them with a lifetime income.
"Giving money to worthwhile organizations is fun," added Wanda Mourant. "Why do we support Perkins? Because Perkins does many things that need to be done and does them well."
To learn more about giving, contact Alleather Toure at 617-972-7680, or e-mail Alleather.Toure@Perkins.org.
Annual Meeting & Reception
Monday, Nov. 1, 5:00 p.m.
Educational Leadership Program International Exhibit
Monday, Nov. 18, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 12, 3 p.m.
MLK, Jr. Day Event
Monday, Jan. 17, 11:30 a.m.
Founded in 1829 as the nation’s first school for the blind, Perkins today serves over 94,000 infants and seniors in their homes; school-age students on campus and in the community; and children who are blind or deafblind in 63 developing countries. The school is an accredited member of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the National Association of Independent Schools. It is licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Mental Retardation. Perkins School for the Blind does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, color, creed, nationality, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.
All we see is Possibility.